5 Ways to Make Work Feel More Like Play

As the name suggests, I started Playbook Studio in large part because I wanted to make my work feel a lot more like play while providing clients with actionable strategies for success.

After decades in a dream career heading up strategy at some of the most respected global advertising agencies, I was beginning to feel crushed and disheartened by corporate life. I remained intellectually interested in my work and always loved mentoring new talent and seeing them grow and succeed. But my spark was fading. The crushing workload and crumbling business model were killing my spirit.

The impulse to imbue work with play was more than just a feel-good aspiration. As I knew from experience, it was the life force for creating great strategies. When I found myself in that imaginative flow-state, my team and I were productive and our clients were happy.

So, Playbook Studio was born, and I couldn’t be happier. Jumping off the hamster wheel and into center court was exhilarating. Plus, my clients seem equally energized and inspired by this dynamic interplay.

I also founded this company in 2018 with the intention of being able to work/play anywhere, involving different collaborators in novel ways. Amidst the wildly new pandemic professional landscape, I think it’s fair to say I was ahead of the curve.

With that in mind, here in no particular order are five tried and true methods to make work feel more like play. Whatever your current role or professional aspirations, I hope these will inspire and inform.

1. Work with people who can hit the ball back

I’ve always loved watching the US Open. To me, work should feel like a pro tennis match––strategic, energizing and beautiful. But the match is only as strong as the players. That’s why I strive to surround myself with the best people I can find––bright individuals with diverse skills and knowledge who are constantly challenging me and making me better. Qualified people who can hit the ball back, whether verbally sparring or volleying a great idea, produce results. This is the competitive fuel that feeds a great tennis match, the pressure that creates diamonds. When you, your team, and your client are A players bringing their A game, work is exhilarating.

2. Work with people you like

It bears repeating: high quality people create high quality work, together. And when it comes to picking your team, pleasure and pressure form both sides of the collaborative yin-yang. You shouldn’t just be surrounding yourself with people who challenge you, you should also be nurturing professional relationships with people you actually like. Before embarking on a project with a new client or potential collaborator, ask yourself: Would I have a drink with this person? Work with them on an all-night assignment? Sit next to them on a nine hour transatlantic plane ride? These aren’t just hypotheticals––they’re almost inevitable. When you feel comfortable enough with someone, you let your guard down and speak your mind without fear of judgement. Creativity and innovation come from that uninhibited, playful space.

3. Create a beautiful environment, then change it up

We create our space and our space creates us. Just as the collective energy and ambition of our collaborators affects us, so do the physical, sonic, and geographic spaces we occupy. A beautiful environment is foundational to the work/play equation. Your primary workspace, which for the foreseeable future is probably somewhere at home, should spatially and aesthetically nurture you. With your headphones in, find a tempo that matches the pace of your task (I’m writing this to the tune of a deep house mix from Eduardo Castillo of Mardeleva). And while a structured workflow requires consistency, I’ve found that it’s hard to produce consistently great work under static conditions. In ways small and large, you’ve got to move. From the desk to the couch to the standing desk to the bike to a different city––action generates action.

4. Gamify!

The most overtly playful method on this list, gamification is the practice of spicing up ordinary tasks with dopamine inducing rewards and creative limitations—the carrot on a stick, so to speak. This could be as simple as eating a piece of candy for every twenty cells filled in a tedious spreadsheet. Or writing each task from your weekly to-do list on a separate sticky note and cathartically balling them up one by one and aiming for a distant wastebasket. Recently, I put my AirPods in and took a call I wasn’t particularly looking forward to while riding my electric bike along Lake Michigan. The call resulted in a new business, and I got a thrill out of pulling off a clandestine joyride while my client imagined me locked into my home desk mission control.

5. Practice gratitude

Last but not least, never underestimate the power of a positive mindset. The way you mentally approach your responsibilities plays a major role in cultivating a vibrant professional life. I get paid to be my own boss, work with interesting people, and do what I love every day. I’m constantly being exposed to exciting new ideas while creating value for clients. I choose to see this as a gift and a privilege rather than a chore. If I didn’t have to work, I might miss out on these opportunities for new knowledge, self-improvement, and play.

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